Better RFP Responses & Management
Keep an Eye on that Outbox

Keep an Eye on that Outbox

A few decades ago I read an article about productivity research in an office setting. If it’s on the www, it is not evident to me, but this is what I remember.

In a big open office of administrative workers, work was delivered to each desk’s inbox throughout the day. Completed work was retrieved from the outbox. The question being researched was, would productivity be affected by how often completed work was picked up? Put another way, would people get more done if their completed work was whisked away as fast as they did it, or if they could see the pile growing through the day?

You there, put your hand down: We all know the answer. It was Door #2 – people worked harder when they could see the results of their labours.

There are many possible reasons for that result, from peer pressure to job satisfaction. OK, there are at least two.

What does this have to do with Proposal Land?

Proposals often feel like shovelling water with a fork. Every stage brings new tasks (work without end) and every review uncovers new things to fix. Perversely, in an environment where people work miracles, making decent technical sales documents out of formerly blank pages, it is really hard to get a sense of how far you’ve come. Of how big the pile in your outbox is.

So, it’s worth considering how to visualize the progress. Charts that show an estimate of completion against final will work for some. For me, the ever-useful control sheet not only tracks the work done and to-be-done, it also gives me a sense of accomplishment as it gradually fills with checkmarks or green squares. And while it seems there are always new columns being added as new tasks are identified (work without end), it retains a record of the work already done.

Herewith, a radically simplified sample. Find what works for you and your team.



  1. Jim Taylor

    I agree in theory. In practice, I seem to prefer a “just get the damn job done” attitude.

    In my final years of employment, I did spreadsheets something similar to what you have, above. I found (or felt) that I was using up valuable time entering data into spreadsheets instead of actually getting the job done.

    Now, the woman who cleans my house every two weeks fills out a form defining what she’s done, after she’s finished. Ditto for the guys who show up to do something or other with my yard. I’m probably paying for the time it takes for them to tell me what they’ve done.

    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – I agree we can go overboard on tracking, as opposed to working, and that there are environments where it makes little sense. When the work is complex and/or there are many hands on it, it’s essential to track the status – and that same tool can give folks a sense of progress. There must be other ways to do the latter – think of the “10 billion burgers served” signs at MacDonalds.

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